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Behind the Scenes of ‘New in Town’

Harry Connick Jr and Renee Zellweger in New in Town

Harry Connick Jr and Renee Zellweger in ‘New in Town.’

© Lionsgate

Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr and Siobhan Fallon Hogan had a great time working on the romantic comedy New in Town, but don’t expect Zellweger and Connick to be packing up and moving to Winnipeg anytime soon. The trio froze their rears off there while shooting the film, but the discomfort they suffered paid off on the screen.New in Town finds Zellweger playing Lucy Hill, an ambitious executive used to the gorgeous weather of Miami, Florida. But when she accepts a temporary position to help out a struggling manufacturing plant in Minnesota, she quickly finds herself outside of her comfort zone. But to her surprise, Lucy – in addition to learning the true meaning of cold – absorbs important life lessons and even finds time for a little romance, courtesy of a handsome, rugged stranger (played by Connick Jr.) while far away from home.

Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr., and Siobhan Fallon Hogan Press Conference

Renee, could you talk a little bit about the weather while filming. What did you and Harry have to endure in the film with the cold and all?Renee Zellweger: “It was highly entertaining and very educational. I didn’t know cold like that; it was a whole different kind of experience. It was a marvelous exercise in developing new survival skills. It was a whole new language for the biological things that happen.”

Harry Connick Jr: “Yes, nostricles being the first of many.”

Renee Zellweger: “Who knew that panty hose could be so very important, three or four pairs at a time. I never imagined that I would rejoice at the pantyhose laid out on the bed by wardrobe every morning. They were essential. I would not be here today were it not for the Hanes – I promise this.”

Siobhan is so funny on screen. Was she funny when you weren’t shooting? Did you have any moments when you couldn’t keep a straight face?

Renee Zellweger: “She got us in trouble. Look at her, she is trouble, trouble.”

Siobhan Hogan: “It was great.”

Renee Zellweger: “I’m telling you we got scolded because we needed to concentrate and focus. This girl is non-stop and they keep flying out. It’s really difficult. I think the most challenging part of this experience was trying to focus, concentrate, and not laugh when she was coming up with whatever it was that was becoming this gorgeous character. We had a really good time. I don’t think there was a day when we weren’t laughing till our eyelids were frozen together from tears.”

Were there any other aspects of working in the city that stuck with you? It’s a pretty quiet place in January.

Renee Zellweger: “Not with us.”

Harry Connick Jr: “It’s not a question of sticking with you, it’s a question of sticking on you. And it’s so cold. Why you would live in that town? The people are amazing but let’s just be real. It’s not human to live in a town like that, that’s just crazy cold. That’s colder than you can even conceive. Don’t go to Winnipeg between October and March.”

Renee Zellweger: “Not without four parkas… There were so many things about that place that were so charming. I loved the ice sculpture downtown. That was great. Waiting for the snow to compile and harden I suppose, that took probably 30 minutes. That was fantastic. The tenacity of the people was just so impressive. To me you looked outside and think, ‘Where is the road?’ because you can’t see the road. ‘I guess there is no driving today.’ But that’s not the case. Everybody just gets up and they get on with it like it’s normal. It’s just commonplace that your face freezes within two seconds of stepping outside of the door.”

Harry Connick Jr: “But again, for the record, it’s not normal. There is no semblance of normalcy about that at all.”

Siobhan Hogan: “Well, I’m from Syracuse so I didn’t think it would be that much of a challenge. When they gave me the packet that said, ‘How to prepare for Winnipeg,’ I chucked it. But then they would give us these hand warmers and neck warmers and I’m not one for details. I put it on my neck and the camera was behind me on Renee and they said, ‘We can see something on your neck.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s my neck warmer.’ I peeled it off and I feel water trickling down the back of my neck because I had blisters all on my back. You’re supposed to put them over your sweater. I went out all the time. I said, ‘This is not going to stop me.’ I learned that you have to bend your knees when you walk because it’s so icy you don’t want to fall and break something. I loved the people and it was great. It’s a great city.”

Harry Connick Jr: “Who walks with their knees not bent anyway?”

Harry, you are noted as being a real guy or a people’s guy. Was Ted close to you or did you have to research?

Harry Connick Jr: “I’m not even close to that guy. If I could be that guy, I would be a hero with my wife. That’s the kind of guy who is a real guy. I don’t have that kind of restraint or mystery. I’m much too emotive and spontaneous or impulsive. There are a lot of things about him I would like to be. I didn’t really do any research. I know who that guy is, so it was a matter of building upon things that I thought about or fantasized about in my head.”

How did the script start out?

Harry Connick Jr: [Laughing] “It was originally Jew in Town right? Jerry Seinfeld was supposed to star in it?”

Siobhan Hogan: “No, it was Nude in Town and that’s why they wanted me.”

Harry Connick Jr: “First I think it was Winnie the Pooh in Town. Then Jew in Town and then Nude in Town.”


January 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Angelina’s Red Carpet Reversal

Angelina Jolie turned heads at the Screen Actors Guild Awards last Sunday, and it wasn’t just because she was her usual stunning self. It turns out Angie was wearing her Max Azria gown — a cornflower blue creation — backward!

Did a spurned stylist tell her to wear it the wrong way round? Or was the “Changeling” star too busy caring for her newborn twins that she didn’t realize her mistake?

(left to right) The front of Angelina’s Max Azria dress (Jason Merritt/Getty Images), the back (Steve Granitz/, and a model from Azria’s Spring 2009 collection (Scott Gries/Getty Images)

Neither, according to Jen Rade, who styles the starlet. Rade told that Jolie reversed the gown on purpose to make it “more blouson.” For those of you who do not parle Francais, “blouson” is the French word for blouse. The end result was a bit too bland for my taste, and rather reminiscent of another Max Azria dress she wore to the Critic’s Choice Awards just a few weeks earlier. Had she worn her gown the right way round, Angelina would have shown more skin but less of her distracting tattoos!

For some reason, the sexy actress has favored billowy blouson gowns with cinched waists this awards season. I just hope she takes a break from the trend come Oscars next month. She may be a mother of six, but she doesn’t need to look matronly.

To hear more about Angelina’s fashion choice, watch this report from E! News Daily. And to see more of Angelina’s red carpet looks, check out Yahoo! Movies’ Fashion Report Card, and click here for complete coverage of the 66th Annual Academy Awards.

January 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Brain’s blood surge doesn’t match activity

28 January 2009 by David Robson

CONTRARY to popular belief, a rush of blood to a certain brain region is not always linked to neural activity there, a finding that may guide future brain scan experiments.

Functional MRI scans measure blood flow in the brain. Neuroscientists interpret this as a sign that neurons are firing, usually as someone performs a task or experiences an emotion. This enables them to link the emotion to the brain region where there was blood flow.

Now, Aniruddha Das from Columbia University in New York and colleagues have shown that blood flow can occur without accompanying neural activity. Das used separate techniques to measure blood flow and neural activity in the visual cortex of two macaques trained to carry out a visual task.

Sitting in darkness except for a light that switched on at regular intervals, the monkeys were trained to look away if it was red, and fix their gaze on the light if it shone green. When the timing of the pauses between the light flashes changed, blood flow still increased when the macaque expected a flash, but there was no subsequent increase in electrical activity from firing neurons (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature07664). Das suspects that the brain sent the rush of blood in anticipation of the neurons’ firing.

Christian Keysers from the BCN Neuroimaging Centre in Groningen, the Netherlands, does not believe the result is relevant to the design of previous fMRI experiments and so is unlikely to have an impact on their results. But Das says care needs to be taken in future to ensure that this misinterpretation does not lead to errors.

January 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

10 Services That Google Killed

Not every Google product is made of gold. Google encourages experimentation, and

that leads to both success and failure. As the economy worsened, Google also stopped being quite as experimental with products that didn’t have any money making potential. Here’s a gallery of some of those not so golden Google products.

Images 1-10 of 10

Google Video PlayerGoogle Video Player SearchMashSearchMash Google dodgeballDodgeball Google Deskbar DownloadGoogle Deskbar
Google AnswersGoogle Answers Google Browser SyncGoogle Browser Sync Google XGoogle X Google HelloGoogle Picasa Hello
Google LivelyGoogle Lively Google Page CreatorGoogle

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment


Parapsychology Principles: Andrew Nichols, Ph.D.

(1) Parapsychology is defined as the interdisciplinary study of a class of human experiences which are typically described by the percipient as Aparanormal,@ Asupernatural,@ Amystical,@ etc. Paranormal experiences are defined as those experiences which seem to violate known scientific laws (whether or not they do in fact violate such laws). Examples of paranormal experiences include Extra-sensory perception (ESP), Psychokinesis (PK), and phenomena suggestive of survival of human consciousness after death, e.g. apparitions, near-death experiences, etc. Parapsychology is also concerned with all anomalous aspects of human consciousness, including altered states of consciousness, dreams, hypnosis and trance, etc.

(2) Parapsychology asserts that such experiences are not, in and of themselves, indicative of psychopathology. It is recognized that paranormal experiences may be concomitants of certain psychopathological states, or that certain paranormal experiences may trigger psychopathological (dysfunctional) responses in some percipients.  Parapsychology rejects psychiatric diagnostic categories which are based solely upon subjective paranormal experiences (e.g. Ahearing voices@).

(3) Parapsychology asserts that paranormal-type experiences are often a source of personal transformation or healing to the individual, and as such, are potentially valuable aspects of the human experience. These experiences are potentially transformative and beneficial whether or not they correspond to events in the realm of mundane sensory experience. Parapsychologists have a duty to assist their clients in the analysis and integration of paranormal experiences, as an adjunct to personal growth and individuation.

(4) Parapsychology asserts that consciousness itself is fundamentally Aparanormal@ (i.e. unexplainable by contemporary scientific models), and further asserts that within each individual is a (usually unconscious) stratum or layer of the psyche which is transpersonal (extends beyond the self), non-local, and non-temporal (not bound by conventional concepts of space and time). This transpersonal consciousness incorporates other individuals, living and deceased, as well as objects and/or locations which are meaningful to the individual. This transpersonal stratum of consciousness is the source of genuine paranormal experiences, whether experienced consciously or subliminally.

(5) Parapsychology asserts that the prudent use of certain techniques (e.g. trance induction, automatisms) may facilitate access to the transpersonal unconscious, and may provide beneficial opportunities for self-actualization and personal transformation for the individual. Such techniques do, however, have a potential for misuse, and should be supervised by an experienced  facilitator trained in parapsychology.

(6) Parapsychology assumes no stance on the question of physical measurement or recording of paranormal phenomena. There is no conclusive evidence that physical measures or recording techniques (photography, audio-recording, etc.) are capable of detecting paranormal energies or entities. Therefore, the parapsychologist must view such purported evidence with an attitude of open-minded skepticism, recognizing that further research or developments in scientific methodology may ultimately provide legitimate physical evidence for the paranormal.

Parapsychology asserts that the meaning or value of paranormal experiences are not dependent upon the acquisition of genuine Aspirit photographs,@ AEVP recordings,@ or other physical evidence. This is true of all subjective human experiences studied by social scientists. Recognizing that some hoaxes do occur, humanistic parapsychologists believe that most reported paranormal phenomena are genuine human experiences, and thus are inherently meaningful and valuable.

(7) Parapsychology is a scientific approach insofar as it utilizes the methodology of the social sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology) to acquire and analyze data on paranormal experiences. However, humanistic parapsychology also incorporates psychological/spiritual development, and as such may be regarded as an interdisciplinary field which incorporates scientific, mystical/intuitive, and philosophical approaches.

(8) The task of parapsychology is threefold. First, since paranormal experiences are usually designated as such by the percipient due to a perceived synchronicity between internal, subjective experiences and external, objective events (e.g. a dream that seems to come true), the  parapsychologist seeks to determine whether this assertion is factual, or if the experience is subjective in nature. Next, the parapsychologist analyzes the gathered material, seeking meaningful patterns relating the event to the percipient=s personal history, mythological concepts, etc. Finally, the parapsychologist offers counseling and advice to the percipient, with the goal of providing an explanation for the paranormal experience(s), and suggestions for integrating, amplifying, or eliminating such experiences, depending upon the individual needs and wishes of the client, and the assessment of the parapsychologist.

(9) Parapsychological Counseling is client-centered and non-directive,  i.e., paranormal experiences should be studied within the cultural and social context in which they occur. Insofar as is possible, the parapsychologist should work within the belief system of the individual percipients toward an understanding of the reported experiences. The task of the parapsychologist is to provide beneficial counseling and advice to the client, rather than to Adebunk@ the experience, or indoctrinate the client into a particular belief system or dogmatic interpretation of the reported experience. Occasionally it is necessary to attempt to re-frame the belief system of the percipient to alleviate fear (e.g. poltergeist cases), protect the client from exploitation (e.g. by fraudulent psychics) or if the physical or psychological health of the individual is believed to be in jeopardy.

(10) Parapsychology supports no specific religious interpretation of paranormal experiences, and makes no assertions with regard to the question of conscious survival after death, nor does it assert the literal existence of an objective Aspirit world= or of non-corporeal entities, extra-terrestrial beings, etc.  Parapsychology does assert that these concepts are scientifically possible, that these questions are of fundamental importance to the human species, and therefore warrant rigorous scientific research.

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Brain Sex


Some researchers say that men can have ‘women’s brains’ and that women can think more like men. Find out more about ‘brain sex’ differences by taking the Sex ID test, a series of visual challenges and questions used by psychologists in the BBC One television series Secrets of the Sexes: Get a brain sex profile and find out if you think like a man or a woman. See if you can gaze into someone’s eyes and know what they’re thinking. Find out why scientists are interested in the length of your fingers. See how your results relate to theories about brain sex. You can come back to the test more than once to finish it. We’ll need your first name or a nickname so we can recognise you for log on purposes only.

 Data protection:

The information you enter in the test is anonymous and cannot be linked to you. (Please only give your first name or nickname.)

See below for further information

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

FDA allows first stem cell test for spinal injury

FDA allows first stem cell test for spinal injury

Biotech company to start trial in paraplegic patients this summer

Government greenlights stem cell trial
Jan. 23: The FDA granted the California-based biotech company Geron permission to use human embryonic stem cells in a trial to reverse paralysis caused by a spinal cord injury. NBC’s Robert Bazell reports.

Nightly News

Video Government greenlights stem cell trial Jan. 23: The FDA granted the California-based biotech company Geron permission to use human embryonic stem cells in a trial to reverse paralysis caused by a spinal cord injury. NBC’s Robert Bazell reports. Nightly News Afghan girls return to school after acid attacks Cracking down on credit card craziness Wall Street’s entitlement culture hard to shake Hudson River pilot receives hero’s welcome 5 more stranded whales die in Australia Most viewed on Plumber recovers $78,000 diamond ring Lobbyists skirt Obama’s earmark ban Neo-Nazis join ‘Adopt-A-Highway’ program Some adversaries ready to give Obama chance Daytime soaps facing their own tragic ending Most viewed on updated 7:01 p.m. ET Jan. 23, 2009 NEW YORK – A U.S. biotech company says it plans to start this summer the world’s first study of a treatment based on human embryonic stem cells — a long-awaited project aimed at spinal cord injury.

Biotech firm to start stem cell tests this summer
Jan. 23: The president and CEO of Geron Corp. tells CNBC his company plans to start testing stem cell treatments this summer.


The company gained federal permission this week to inject eight to 10 patients with cells derived from embryonic cells, said Dr. Thomas Okarma, president and CEO of Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif. The patients will be paraplegics, who can use their arms but can’t walk. They will receive a single injection within two weeks of their injury The study is aimed at testing the safety of the procedure, but doctors will also look for signs of improvement like return of sensation or movement in the legs, Marking a new chapter Whatever its outcome, the study will mark a new chapter in the contentious history of embryonic stem cell research in the United States — a field where debate spilled out of the laboratory long ago and into national politics. While some overseas doctors claim to use human embryonic stem cells in their clinics, stem cell experts said they knew of no previous human studies that use such cells. “It’s a milestone and it’s a breakthrough for the field” because Geron passed the safety hurdles for getting federal clearance to launch the study, said Ed Baetge, chief scientific officer of Novocell Inc. His company hopes to begin a similar human study for treating diabetes in a few years. In addition, said spinal cord injury researcher Dr. Wise Young of Rutgers University, “a lot of hope of the spinal cord injury community is riding on this trial.” Embryonic stem cells can develop into any cell of the body, and scientists have long hoped to harness them for creating replacement tissues to treat a variety of diseases. But research has been controversial because embryos must be destroyed to obtain them. Video Biotech firm to start stem cell tests this summer Jan. 23: The president and CEO of Geron Corp. tells CNBC his company plans to start testing stem cell treatments this summer. CNBC President Barack Obama has promised to relax the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal financing for such research. But Obama’s ascent to the White House had nothing to do with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s granting permission for the new study, Okarma said in a telephone interview Thursday. In fact, the company says, the project involves stem cells that were eligible for federal funding under Bush, although no federal money was used to develop the experimental treatment or to pay for the human study. Other human cells, called adult stem cells, have been tested before in people to treat heart problems, for example. In the Geron study, the injections will be made in the spine at the site of damage. The work will be done in four to seven medical centers around the country, Okarma said. Animal studies suggest that once injected, the cells will mature and repair what is essentially a lack of insulation around damaged nerves, and also pump out substances that nerves need to function and grow. Apart from assessing safety, investigators will hope to see some signs of improvement in the patient, Okarma said. The idea is “not to make somebody … get up and dance the next day,” he said, but rather to provide some level of ability that can be improved by physical therapy. Each patient will receive a low dose of anti-rejection drugs for about two months, because after that time the medications shouldn’t be needed, Okarma said. The study will follow each patient for at least a year. Okarma said he can’t estimate how much such a therapy would cost if it proves effective, but that “this is not going to be a $500,000 price tag. It will be remarkably affordable … in the context of the value it provides.” Click for related content Opinion: Election signals change in bioethics Researchers find easier way to make stem cells Promising stem cell method avoids embryos Evan Snyder, a stem cell researcher at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, Calif., said scientists in the field will focus chiefly on the study’s results about safety. “The one hope that everybody has is that nothing bad happens,” he said. Geron Corp. has spent at least $100 million on human embryonic stem cell research. Founded in 1992, it does not have any therapies on the market. However, the company is considered the world’s leading embryonic stem cell developer thanks to its claims on several key stem cell technologies. Geron helped finance researchers at the University of Wisconsin who first isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998. The company has retained exclusive rights on several of those cell types. © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

January 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Nazi angel of death Josef Mengele

Nazi angel of death Josef Mengele ‘created twin town in Brazil’ The Nazi doctor Josef Mengele is responsible for the astonishing number of twins in a small Brazilian town, an Argentine historian has claimed. Candido Godoi twins – Nazi angel of death Josef Mengele ‘created twin town in Brazil’

 One in five pregnancies in the small Brazilian town have resulted in twins – most of them blond haired and blue eyed Auschwitz – Nazi angel of death Josef Mengele ‘created twin town in Brazil’ Mengele was the resident medic at Auschwitz from May 1943 Photo: AP Josef Mengele – Nazi angel of death Josef Mengele ‘created twin town in Brazil’ Mengele fled Europe for South America in the face of the Red Army advance in January 1945  

The steely hearted “Angel of Death”, whose mission was to create a master race fit for the Third Reich, was the resident medic at Auschwitz from May 1943 until his flight in the face of the Red Army advance in January 1945. His task was to carry out experiments to discover by what method of genetic quirk twins were produced – and then to artificially increase the Aryan birthrate for his master, Adolf Hitler. Now, a historian claims, Mengele’s notorious experiments may have borne fruit. For years scientists have failed to discover why as many as one in five pregnancies in a small Brazilian town have resulted in twins – most of them blond haired and blue eyed. But residents of Candido Godoi now claim that Mengele made repeated visits there in the early 1960s, posing at first as a vet but then offering medical treatment to the women of the town. Shuttling between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, he managed to evade justice before his death in 1979, but his dreams of a Nazi master race appeared unfulfilled. In a new book, Mengele: the Angel of Death in South America, the Argentine historian Jorge Camarasa, a specialist in the post-war Nazi flight to South America, has painstakingly pieced together the Nazi doctor’s mysterious later years.

 After speaking to the townspeople of Candido Godoi, he is convinced that Mengele continued his genetic experiments with twins – with startling results. He reveals how, after working with cattle farmers in Argentina to increase their stock, Mengele fled the country after fellow Nazi, Adolf Eichmann, was kidnapped by Israeli agents. He claims that Mengele found refuge in the German enclave of Colonias Unidas, Paraguay, and from there, in 1963, began to make regular trips to another predominantly German community just over the border in Brazil – the farming community of Candido Godoi. And, Mr Camaras claims, it was here that soon after the birthrate of twins began to spiral. “I think Candido Godoi may have been Mengele’s laboratory, where he finally managed to fulfil his dreams of creating a master race of blond haired, blue eyed Aryans,” he said. “There is testimony that he attended women, followed their pregnancies, treated them with new types of drugs and preparations, that he talked of artificial insemination in human beings, and that he continued working with animals, proclaiming that he was capable of getting cows to produce male twins.” The urbane German who arrived in Candido Godoi was remembered with fondness by many of the townspeople. “He told us he was a vet,” said Aloisi Finkler, a local farmer interviewed by Mr Camarasa. “He asked about illnesses we had among our animals, and told us not to worry, he could cure them. He appeared a cultured and dignified man.” Another farmer, Leonardo Boufler, said: “He went from farm to farm checking the animals. He checked them for TB, and injected those that were infected. He said he could carry out artificial insemination of cows and humans, which we thought impossible as in those days it was unheard of.” But the Nazi eugenicist did not concentrate on animals alone. A former mayor and town doctor, Anencia Flores da Silva, set out to try to solve the town’s mystery. He interviewed hundreds of people, and discovered one character who crept on cropping up: an itinerant medic calling himself Rudolph Weiss. Dr da Silva said: “In the testimonies we collected we came across women who were treated by him, he appeared to be some sort of rural medic who went from house to house. He attended women who had varicose veins and gave them a potion which he carried in a bottle, or tablets which he brought with him. Sometimes he carried out dental work, and everyone remembers he used to take blood.” The people of Candido Godoi now largely accept that a Nazi war criminal was an inadvertent guest of theirs for several years in the early 1960s. The town’s official crest shows two identical profiles and a road sign welcomes visitors to a “Farming Community and Land of the Twins”. There is also a museum, the House of the Twins. While the twins birthrate varies widely in different countries, it is typically about one in 80 pregnancies – a statistic that has left Mr Camarasa certain in his claim that Mengele was successfully pursuing his dreams of creating a master race, a real-life Boys from Brazil. “Nobody knows for sure exactly what date Mengele arrived in Candido Godoi, but the first twins were born in 1963, the year in which we first hear reports of his presence,” he said

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Brain games aim to boost your IQ



Brain games aim to boost your IQ

How Old Is Your Brain? screenshot
Dr Kawashima is a top researcher into brain imaging

Computer games have long been derided by critics as mindless, brain-rotting fun.

But a new wave of games is turning the cliché on its head.

Nintendo has sold nearly five million copies of its three Nintendo DS brain training games since the series launched in Japan a year ago.

The first title in the series, Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?, sees players follow a daily regime of brain-enhancing exercises and is due to be released in the UK in June.

Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training comprises a variety of mini-games designed to give brains a workout.

Activities include solving simple maths problems, counting people going in and out of a house, drawing pictures on the Nintendo DS touchscreen, and reading classic literature aloud into the device’s microphone.

Players are given a brain age reflecting their performance. Over time, your brain age should get younger as you achieve better scores.

Smart thinking

Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training has sold some 1.8 million copies, and it is still in the Japanese top 10 a year after release.

But the brain training games’ success is down to more than just a neat gameplay gimmick.

Nintendo DS
The brain training games for the DS have sold well

Unlike Nintendo’s fictional creations, such as Donkey Kong or Mario, Dr Kawashima really is a leading Japanese brain expert.

A graduate of the Tohuku University School of Medicine, Dr Kawashima works at the same university’s New Industry Creation Hatchery Centre, and is one of the country’s top researchers into brain imaging.

He is also a best-selling author. His two books on brain training have sold more than a million copies in Japan.

Nintendo’s President Satoru Iwata personally shepherded the idea of a brain-enhancing game through production.

It originally arose from a remark by a member of Nintendo’s board of directors that he knew nobody his own age who played games.

And Mr Iwata sought Dr Kawashima’s involvement, seeing the two men’s similar fifty-something ages as common ground.

It is all a long way from a typical video game’s development, and the differences continue in the older, non-gamers that Nintendo is explicitly targeting with the title.

Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training will be the first video game ever to be advertised and featured in Saga magazine, for instance.

“As these new types of games gain in popularity, we must find new and different ways to bring them to new audiences, many of whom will have never played a traditional videogame before,” explained a Nintendo spokesperson.

Mobile mindset

Nintendo has not got a monopoly on brain training games, however.

Mobile phone developer Upstart Games is creating IQ Academy, a reworking of the Japanese mobile title Right Brain Paradise, which has been a big hit in Asia.

I think we have a critical mass of people that have been exposed to games for the last 25 years, and there is much wider acceptance of games as an entertainment medium
Barry O’Neill, Upstart Games

IQ Academy gauges the player’s performance in various tasks of recognition, logical prediction and spatial resolution.

It then rates the player and mixes up the puzzles offered next time, promoting further improvement.

Whereas Nintendo’s games use the DS’s stylus and touchscreen, IQ Academy employs a simple multiple choice system.

“The nice thing about IQ Academy is that it doesn’t require any specialist hardware to work,” said Barry O’Neill, CEO of Upstart Games.

“Almost anyone with a mobile phone will be able to download and play it.”

Mr O’Neill said there is a definite “halo effect” around brain games thanks to Nintendo’s titles.

But he added that it is the broadening games audience that has really made such games more feasible.

“I think we have a critical mass of people that have been exposed to games for the last 25 years, and there is much wider acceptance of games as an entertainment medium,” Mr O’Neill said.

“Not everyone wants to play first-person action titles or role-playing games,” he continued.

“Games that can challenge you from a mental perspective without falling into a gamer genre cliché are proving very popular.”

Growing intelligence

The brain wave might only just be hitting British shores, but in Japan publishers are challenging Nintendo with their own intelligence-focussed games.

Carol Vorderman
Carol Vorderman is getting in on the craze

Sega is working with Kenichiro Mogi, a senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Research Lab, on a thinking-based game for Sony’s PSP handheld.

And Bandai Namco is looking to integrate the action-orientated gameplay of its Point Blank arcade titles into a new brain game.

Here in the UK, Nintendo will follow up Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training with Big Brain Academy later this year.

Big Brain Academy estimates the weight of your brain from your performance in a series of tests.

It also compares your brain to great brains from history.

Upstart Games plans further IQ Academy games too, including a 3D version that presents the player with spatial awareness challenges.

And last year’s brain-teasing craze, Suduko, is also getting a digital makeover. Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku, released late last year on the PC, will arrive in a PSP version this June.


January 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

President Obama tackles first day

President Obama tackles first day

Obama tells ABC’s Good Morning America he will act swiftly on the economy

Barack Obama is beginning his first full day as US president, in the midst of an economic crisis and two wars.

Within hours of his inauguration, he requested a halt to military trials at the Guantanamo detention camp. One judge has already suspended a case.

Despite celebrating his inauguration through the night, Mr Obama plans to meet economic and military advisers.

He is expected to discuss plans for an $825bn rescue economic package – as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Mr Obama became America’s 44th president – and its first black leader – at noon on 20 January, and attended numerous events to mark the historic occasion as millions of supporters also enjoyed a party atmosphere.

We will see what Mr Obama does with the history which is now his to shape
Kevin Connolly
BBC News

But as the euphoria dies down, the serious issues of the financial crisis and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will top his agenda, correspondents say.

Mr Obama has already ordered last-minute regulations signed by his predecessor, George W Bush, to be put on hold.

Congressional leaders say they intend to pass the economy stimulus bill by the middle of February.

Regarding Iraq, Mr Obama promised that on his first day in office he would give his military commanders a new mission – to end the war there.

More than 140,000 US troops are still stationed in Iraq, five years after an invasion which the new president consistently opposed.

President Obama has promised to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months – and the Iraqi government has said that US forces are welcome to leave before the 2012 deadline set at the end of last year.

Guantanamo move

On Tuesday, Mr Obama and his Secretary of Defence Robert Gates asked for military tribunals at Guantanamo Camp to be suspended for 120 days “in the interests of justice”.

A photo of President Obama is placed in the military headquarters of Guantanamo Bay.

Hearings had been due to take place on Wednesday in the case of the five men accused of plotting the 11 September attacks.

The judge in the trial of Omar Khadr – a Canadian man accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 – agreed to the requested suspension.

Also on Wednesday there will be a debate over the appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

Approval for her appointment was postponed after a Republican senator demanded a debate about foreign donations to a foundation headed by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Mrs Clinton’s nomination is expected to be confirmed in a vote immediately after the debate.

Several other cabinet positions are still to be confirmed.

The US Senate, which traditionally moves swiftly to affirm a new president’s cabinet, approved six members on Tuesday, including Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary and Steven Chu as energy secretary.

Timothy Geithner, the nominee to head the treasury department, is due to face the Senate finance committee on Wednesday to explain his initial failure to pay payroll taxes he owed while working for the International Monetary Fund.

Former US President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton

Mrs Clinton’s confirmation will follow a debate on her husband’s funding

Mr Obama last week called Mr Geithner’s tax problems an embarrassment but an “innocent mistake”.

Other Obama nominees still to be confirmed are Eric Holder as attorney general, and Tom Daschle as head of health and human services.

The new administration acted quickly after his inauguration to halt measures rushed through in the last days of the Bush administration – a common tactic by new leaders.

Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel ordered all agencies and departments to stop all pending regulations until a legal and policy review could be conducted, the White House said.

Such a review can be used by an incoming administration to delay so-called “midnight regulations” introduced between November’s election and January’s inauguration.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment